From feeling isolated to making mental healthcare accessible
Young entrepreneur Jahnnobi Rahman is helping improve wellbeing of Bangladesh's young people
It all started when Jahnnobi Rahman moved away from home as a college student, studying computer science and engineering. Living without her family for the first time, away from the bustle of Dhaka where she grew up, Jahnnobi felt alone. She had no new friends, had to juggle a demanding academic schedule with a part-time job, and soon started to feel overwhelmed and alone.
“I wondered what was wrong with me. I’m connected on Facebook with so many people, why am I feeling disconnected? It gradually dawned on me that I needed help. I eventually realized I was not the only one.”
In a culture abuzz with connections via social media, Jahnnobi knew that there was something amiss. “With normal social media young people are tired of having to project a polished public profile, showing off something that they are not. They want to be themselves but are afraid to. They don’t have a medium where they can express what they are really going through.”
This was the beginning of Jahnnobi’s journey as an entrepreneur. She and two fellow students went on to build ‘Relaxy’ a mental health and wellness app aimed to help young Bangladeshis struggling emotionally.
With a data and science driven approach Relaxy always kept in mind the most clicked 'mood' on the app. The feeling of being “ALONE”.
“I know what it is like to feel alone, to feel like a misfit. Pressure to meet expectations in our studies, career choice, or appearance is a problem for many of us.”
Jahnnobi describes how growing up with her parents and two sisters, she was the ‘tomboy’. “I would go to school dressed like a boy. I looked so like a boy that many students didn’t realize that I was actually a girl and I used to play in all boys’ football teams. But when I turned 14 my coach said I couldn’t do that anymore, and that’s when I felt my first big disconnect. I think a lot of my own life is connected to what I have built with my co-founders."
Jahnnobi with her Relaxy co-founders, fellow students MD Shamiul Islam Shopnil and Naimul Hoque Joy, spoke to over 1000 young people and consulted with dozens of mental health experts to create a one of kind offering that was easy to use. They engineered with just three or four clicks, a way to get a clinical record of what a person was experiencing and were able to map the rate and intensity of their issue. Accordingly they offered recommendations like paid expert consultations with a clinical psychologist or free access to a community platform or guided meditation. The app has recently onboarded an emergency line as well.
“We don’t offer generalized answers, like one therapy and you’re done. Not everyone needs the same thing. Some may need to just vent. Others need more.”
With over 1,600 new users and 2,500 downloads in the first month in Bangladesh, Relaxy now has has 6 percent of its users in India, Indonesia, Singapore, and the United States. On helping people globally, Jahnnobi says “To build something in the mental health space in Bangladesh where there is still so much stigma, took courage, grit and focus as a woman entrepreneur. Let it be Bangladesh, with a women led company that bridges the gaps.”
Taking risks, sharing her story, learning, listening and collaborating have brought Jahnnobi global recognition with UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited imaGen Ventures Youth Challenge and a place in the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for social impact in 2023. “I have always wanted to engage with people with great skills and ideas, and to earn my own money. My parents now accept me for who I am, that I am going to be an entrepreneur, that I will make my own way, that I won’t be a doctor like everyone else in my family, that I may never get a Masters degree- though I know my dad still hopes I will. It is the obstacles, and societal pressures I have known that have made me who I am today. I want to help more young people who are feeling alone find their voice.”
Collaboration to open up access
Relaxy, supported by UNICEF Bangladesh and Generation Unlimited, is making mental healthcare and job opportunities within the healthcare sector even more accessible for young people. Resources from the company will be available on skilling platform Passport to Earning (P2E), which trains and certifies young people with free in-demand, job-ready skills at scale.
P2E is implemented in Bangladesh under the Girls’ Education and Skills Partnership (GESP) with support from Standard Chartered Bank and the UK Foreign and Development Office (FCDO).
Integrating Relaxy into P2E will translate into even more young people having access to comprehensive training on mental health and psychological skills and capabilities but also expand their job prospects. Young people will be able to explore job opportunities as expert listeners who will give quality mental health support to users and partner organizations of Relaxy.